Worried about Your Post-Quarantine Future? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I lead a marketing department for an operating company of a massive global conglomerate (yes, those still exist). When the shelter-in-place rule was announced, I did a really good job of making sure my team was set up to work from home, and have figured out the flex time/PTO situation for those who have school-aged kids.

A couple of my people have come down with COVID-19 and they have been fully quarantined. Thank God none of them have had to go to the hospital and all are recovering—albeit some more slowly than others. I am a 57-year-old man with asthma, so I am being ultra-careful myself.

The initial panic seems to have passed. I am no longer running on coffee and adrenaline. But now what I feel is dread. For a while we were talking about “when this is over,” but no one is talking about that anymore. Now I only hear “get ready for a new normal.”

I still worry that I might get the virus. It seems to be harder on men, and I live alone and don’t have anyone to take of me. I really like my job—although I suspect that I will be cut soon. I am not ready to retire, financially or energy-wise. But if I do get laid off, who wants to hire an old guy?

I’m not sleeping well. When I do sleep, I have nightmares.

Any ideas for finding some peace?

Need Peace

Dear Need Peace,

So here we are—in the US at least—about six weeks into about as weird a state as we all ever, collectively, have been. We seem to be pretty much through the sheer terror part of the program—some are managing the loss of their income, and, far worse, some have lost loved ones. In a best-case scenario, we are (I hope) about halfway to some kind of return to normalcy. We are being told that nothing will ever be the same, the economy will tank, we will never shake hands again.

Back in the day, when the only way to cross the Atlantic was to sail, sailors would often hit the doldrums. Around the equator, the wind would just stop blowing—sometimes for a few days, often for weeks. But that didn’t mean there weren’t storms. There were often more than usual, and they would spring up with no warning. It caused deep unease. Sailors would start wondering if they would have enough food. Or water. (I can’t imagine they were worried about toilet paper.) Before the discovery that limes could combat scurvy, which is a lack of vitamin C that causes the gums to soften among other symptoms, sailors would wonder why their teeth were falling out. This was the time that nightmares about sea monsters would set in. It was pure, unadulterated, existential dread.

We are in the doldrums. Uncertainty is exhausting for our brains. Our brains are prediction machines, constantly scanning the environment for new threats. And these days, all they find is potential and even actual threats. It is totally normal to feel like you are on tilt most of the time. I don’t know anyone who isn’t feeling it. One of my colleagues who has been through some serious challenges and has perfected the art of self-care recently wrote: “I am noticing my self-care practices are not enough some days to get me out of a funk of negativity.” If she, who is a role model for sunny resilience, is feeling this way, we normal people are going to have work extra hard!

So. You have your work cut out for you. I am no medical professional, but I am a fellow human and I will share some ideas of what has worked for me, my clients, and my loved ones.

  • Right now, take a few minutes and write down everything you are afraid of, everything that is driving you nuts, everything you are putting up with, everything that is making you mad. Get it all out, all on paper. This isn’t to dwell on the negative—it is to get all of the nasty little dust bunnies hiding in the dark places of your soul out into the sunlight. You probably think you don’t have that many, but you might be surprised. Now, look through all the things on the list and identify the ones you have some control over. See what actions you might be able to take that might shore up your sense of autonomy and control.
  • One technique that has been extraordinarily helpful to many of my clients, especially the creative ones, is called Morning Pages, from a book called The Artists Way by Julia Cameron. You can hear Julia on the topic here. The technique couldn’t be simpler. When you wake up in the morning, you write three pages, just stream of consciousness, in longhand (a stretch for the younger generation but probably not for you!) I have used this technique to get me through some of darkest days and it really clears the mind.
  • Call your regular doctor and discuss your options for getting better sleep. I personally find that brutally difficult exercise can help. The one thing available to almost everyone is a long walk. Walking is always good, never bad.
  • Talk to a mental health professional. One big company, a client informed me, is offering 16 therapy sessions to all executive employees and all their family members. I was shocked! But I’ll bet your company is offering some kind of help. Do some digging, find out how to avail yourself of it, and unburden yourself. If that is not an option, you might find some help on this great mental health/COVID-19 resource page.
  • Regarding your fear about losing your job—marketing is essential, now more than ever. You must figure out how to make yourself indispensable and mission critical to the success of the business. This would be a really good reason to work with a coach—someone who can help you figure out your personal brand, your strengths, and a solid PR campaign that helps your boss (and anyone else who matters) understand how you add value. I’ll bet you could hire a good coach for six sessions to just accomplish that one goal. Here is a link to The International Coach Federation Coach Finder. It will help you manage your anxiety and take intentional action, and it will be super helpful to get you through to the next opportunity if you do get let go.
  • As for the language you use about yourself, cut it out. Language shapes our thoughts, and thoughts become our reality. As my mother-in-law, the extraordinarily wise Margie Blanchard, says: “Don’t say it if you don’t want it.” So please stop calling yourself an old guy. Reframe your self-concept around what you have to offer. Lots of people want to hire people with the right experience and skills. Nobody wants to hire Eeyore.

The one thing I recommend you take very seriously—as in do now—is what you said about there being no one to take care of you if you get sick. I encourage you to take the leap and have this conversation with someone in your life who cares enough about you to check in, bring you cans of soup, and generally show up on your behalf—a colleague, a neighbor, a friend. You sound self-sufficient and proud, which is fine, but not when you need help. So ask for help before you need it, so that you can put your mind at ease. No one should be totally alone right now, and you have the capacity to change that feeling. If you do nothing else for yourself, do that, please.

These are hard times. There is no denying it and no getting around it. But there are no sea monsters here, and your teeth aren’t going to fall out. I promise.

Love, Madeleine

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is the co-founder of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, Blanchard’s 150 coaches have worked with over 16,000 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services.

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